Swami Vivekananda: Relevance of His Stirring Speech in Chicago in 1893


Dr Ravi P Bhatia – TRANSCEND Media Service

14 Sep 2017 – One of the persons who first brought the knowledge of Hinduism to the Western world is undoubtedly the Hindu Sanyasi (monk) Swami Vivekananda. His speech delivered in the Parliament of Religions in Chicago on 11 September 1893 was a unique and path breaking one that helped not only the delegates but also the general public to get an idea of what the Hindu religion, which was one of the most ancient religions of the world, signified and what was its relevance at that time to the world.

Vivekananda was born as Narendra Nath on 12th January 1863 and belonged to an influential family in Calcutta (now Kolkata). From a very young age Narendra displayed an inclination towards spirituality which became strengthened when he met Sri Ramakrishna who was impressed by the young precocious boy and taught him that all living beings are manifestations of the Divine and hence service to mankind is ultimately service to God. Ramakrishna gave Narendra the name Vivekananda and urged him to spread the words of peace, harmony and joy. Narendra followed his Master’s wishes and today he is known as one of the most sincere and profound voices of Divinity that all of us have and what we need to nurture for joy and bliss.

India is celebrating 125 years of the Chicago speech which has become important because Vivekananda spoke of a world where different religions and its peoples could coexist in peace and harmony. The situation today is just the opposite with suspicion, hostility, violence between not only different religions but the world itself.

We will try to briefly discuss why the world is full of hostility and hatred but let us first dwell on the soul stirring words of Swamiji spoken far away from his home in Calcutta.

Before delivering the speech that started with the simple words “Brothers and Sisters of America” Vivekananda struggled like any ordinary person in a new country with limited financial resources and lack of warm clothes to name a few of the difficulties he faced.

He received a warm welcome at the Parliament which he acknowledged with these words:

I thank you in the name of the most ancient order of monks in the world. I thank you in the name of the mother of religions, and I thank you in the name of millions and millions of Hindu people of all classes and sects.

 He continued with the following inspiring words:

“I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth. I am proud to tell you that we have gathered in our bosom the purest remnant of the Israelites, who came to Southern India and took refuge with us in the very year in which their holy temple was shattered… I am proud to belong to the religion which has sheltered and is still fostering the remnant of the grand Zoroastrian nation.   The present convention, which is one of the most august assemblies ever held, is in itself a vindication, a declaration to the world of the wonderful doctrine preached in the Gita: Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach them; all are struggling through paths which in the end lead to Me.

“Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now. But their time is come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honour of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions… and of all uncharitable feelings between persons ….”

On his return from Chicago, Vivekananda travelled to England and other parts of Europe. In England he met a young Irish woman named Margaret Elizabeth in 1895 and impressed her so much that she decided to come to Calcutta in 1898 and help in the education of young women. Vivekananda gave her the name of Nivedita that meant Dedicated to God. Besides her love for education she could see first-hand the injustice of the British colonial rule and became a staunch critic of their rule.

Vivekananda inspired many people and helped start an organisation called Ramakrishna Mission which now has many branches and spreads the message of education, love, harmony and joy. He travelled to many parts of India and also to the southernmost part. From there he went by boat to a small island that is now known as the Vivekananda Rock where a beautiful museum has been erected to commemorate his life and message of love and harmony.

Like many noble souls, Swami Vivekananda died at a very young age of 39 years in July 1902. His mission is being carried on by his numerous followers and the institution of Ramakrishna Mission.

Just as Vivekananda had stated, there is bigotry and fanaticism – religious and political in the world today that leads to suspicion conflict and violence. It is so different from the stirring words that he had stated in Chicago “We believe not only in universal toleration, but accept all religions as true.”

Following his footsteps many other prominent people – Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Bishop Tutu, Martin Luther King and others have tirelessly worked for understanding, peace and goodwill but the world situation today is full of bloodshed and hatred.

There is no doubt that we need another Vivekananda to be born and lead us to the path of justice, love and peace.


Dr Ravi P Bhatia is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment, an educationist and peace researcher. Retired professor, Delhi University.  ravipbhatia@gmail.com


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 18 Sep 2017.

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